Beating Up On Black People

Beating Up On Black People

Note to my white self…

You know the rule.

You can say nearly anything about your siblings, but – if anyone else says those same things – those are fighting words.

Remember this rule in your Facebook posts, observations and general conversation about black people. Your opinions on black on black crime, rap music, marriage rates, black people using the N word, teenage pregnancy, the work ethic, entitlement or a host of other alleged issues in the black community are unwelcome.  Keep them to yourself.  You are not part of their family.  You have not earned the right to critique them.  Black people are right to be suspicious and hostile when you do so.

Your insistence on your right to critique black people is an example of white privilege and not of objectivity. When it comes to black people and their behavior, you are not objective. You bring your racist assumptions, indoctrination and prejudices to any encounter with black people and culture. When it comes to the lives of black people and the issues within black culture, YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.  Your opinions are uninformed and therefore evidence of your racism rather than any expertise.

Don’t pretend your critique of black people and culture is out of some deep concern for the black community when you largely avoid authentic interactions with black people and their culture.  When was the last time you attended an event where you were the minority?  What was the last book you read by a black author?  When have you ever had a deep conversation with a black person about their life and experience?  Be honest. Your opinions about black people are not the result of thoughtful reflection and solidarity.  They are often racially motivated, intended to diminish white culpability and blame black people for past and present social ills.

Yes, I know you read an article about some problem in the black community. I know you have statistics and statistics don’t lie.  They can, however, be manipulated.  When it comes to race, the statistics you emphasize say more about you than what those statistics conclude. Even – if by some lucky coincidence – your secondhand analysis of an issue happens to be correct, you are not in a position to effect change and are far more likely to reinforce negative opinions of black people.  Indeed, in most circumstances, you are more part of the problem than the solution.  Black people are completely capable of identifying issues within their community. They do not need your help.

Nor do they need your affirmation. Quoting a black person to corroborate your opinion does not make you less racist.  The opinions of black people vary on nearly every issue.  Choosing one black person – especially one who shares your negative critique of black culture – as your officially sanctioned black spokesperson is a classic white supremacist tactic.  If you’re really striving for objectivity, you will carefully listen to as many black voices as possible.  You will seek some consensus in their dialogue.  You will respect their most common conclusions in forming your opinion.  Even when you do all of this, your opinion is still irrelevant.

This is true of progressives as well as of conservatives.  The rule still applies.  If you are an ally or accomplice, this makes you a family friend and not part of the family.  Being supportive of black resistance and empowerment does not give you the right to critique Kanye West, Ben Carson, Larry Elder, Coleman Hughes or black people wearing MAGA hats, even when other black people do.  Even applauding their critiques is suspect.  If you need to quote black people, look for those who are critiquing white behavior. Though most white people know little about black culture and experience, every black person thoroughly understands white culture.  They must to survive.  They are experts on white behavior and culture.

I know you think it unfair that they can critique you, but you can’t critique them. Let me explain the difference again.  Power corrupts. Those in power must therefore be critiqued.  White people are still in power. Any white critique of black people is suspect in the context of these inequities in power. Such critique always tends toward victim blaming.  Whether you realize it or not, your critiques will always be tainted by your need – conscious or unconscious – to sustain your power and dominance.

Progressives critiquing the Blacks Lives Matter movement is a good example of this dynamic.  Many say they want black empowerment, but reject all forms of resistance that do not play by the very rules designed to protect white supremacy.  If you love Dr. King, but reject Black Lives Matter, you don’t know much about Dr. King.  If the societal systems and rules worked for black people, they wouldn’t be protesting.  The Black Lives Matter movement should not merely make conservative whites uncomfortable.  It should make all whites uncomfortable.  Embrace you discomfort instead of becoming a critic.

I know you’re concerned about who will hold black people and culture accountable.  Your commitment to accountability is noble.  It is simply misdirected.  You have far too much work to do in holding your white peers, your white dominated institutions and your white culture accountable for their continued oppression of people of color.  Don’t get distracted.  You can’t waste valuable energy critiquing black people.  Let them hold each other accountable.  They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years without your help.  They can handle it.

Let me say this as simply as I can – verbally beating up on a black person is not a good look on you.

Instead of critiquing someone’s else’s family, examine your own.  Who in your family is still telling racist jokes?  Who is your family is sharing racist memes?  Who in your family continues to repeat racist opinions and rhetoric?  Who in your family is most likely to act out of unconscious bias?  Who in your family refuses to acknowledge white privilege and systemic racism?

If you need to be critical, start there.

 

 

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When Compliments Are Racist

When Compliments Are Racist

Note to My White Self…

I did it again.

I offered one of those back handed, racist compliments that expose how much work I still have to do as a recovering racist. Even worse, I did it during a panel discussion at a cross-racial dialogue conference where I allegedly represented a “woke” white person. Here is what happened.

In describing a recent conversation with a black woman, I said, “I was talking with a very articulate black woman…”

Sigh.  I should know better.  I’ve read and even written about this peculiar racist habit.  I’ve explained it to many white people who don’t get it. Describing a black person as “articulate” implies this attribute is unusual and requires comment. Such compliments subtly support the racist trope that black people aren’t articulate.  Fortunately, someone almost immediately called me out on my use of the qualifier “articulate” and I acknowledged and apologized for my racist rhetoric.

I suppose I’ve made some progress. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have understood what I did wrong.  Five years ago, I would have been defensive and objected to any critique.  Today, I’m slightly embarrassed and thankful that someone called me out.  I am also due for a refresher on when the qualifiers and compliments of white people are racist.

Rule #1

Unless a reference to the skin color of a person is relevant to the story, a white person referring to someone as black is usually racist. 

In the situation above, describing the woman as black was necessary. My story was about her experience as a black woman dealing with racism.  The story wouldn’t have made any sense unless people understood she was black.

However, in most situations, noting the race of someone is unnecessary and often motivated by unconscious racist bias.  For example, telling my wife that a black salesman knocked on our door is racist. Informing her of the salesman’s skin color only makes sense if I think she needs to know that specific information.  Though I didn’t do this consciously, I may have been warning her that black men – whom I’ve been indoctrinated to associate with danger and violence – were in our neighborhood.

Often, in my experience, the use of the descriptor “black” by white people is completely irrelevant to the story.  The real motive in describing the person as black is to affirm some racial stereotype.  If you want to read more about this dynamic, I’ve discussed this rule at length in the post – “I Say Racist Things.

Rule #2

Unless the adjective used to describe a black person is pertinent to the story, the adjective used by a white person probably reflects their unconscious prejudice and is not actually complimentary.

Many compliments of black people by white people share a common theme – the black person being complimented is an exception to the rule.  Suggesting a black person is “articulate, hardworking, intelligent, studious, respectful, competent, beautiful, level headed, etc.” is often said with the unstated “for a black person.”  White people compliment the black person because they have had one of their racist stereotypes challenged.  Unfortunately, rather than examining their own prejudice, the white person’s compliment actually serves as a means of reinforcing the racist stereotype – “My opinion of black people is still correct.  You are the exception.”

Additionally, the backhanded compliment allows the white person to think well of themselves.  Why did I mention that the black woman in my story was articulate?  Was my motive to compliment her or to exhibit my graciousness?  This is especially common in progressive circles where white people seek to demonstrate their solidarity with people of color.  In 2007, Joe Biden once described Barack Obama as “articulate, bright, clean and a nice-looking guy.”  While Biden intended his remarks to be complimentary, they were rightly condemned as racist and he later apologized.  While all four qualifiers are suspicious, no one would ever compliment a white politician for being clean.

In my racist assertion, describing the black woman as articulate was completely unnecessary.  Whether I thought her articulate was irrelevant to the story.  She did not need my accolades as a preface.  Her worth was not enhanced by my approval.  If I had simply related her words, the power of her statement would have been obvious.

Rule #3

Describe the behaviors and impact of black people’s actions rather than offering qualifiers and adjectives.

Here is what that black woman said.  She told of how when she arrived in Africa for the very first time, a weight she’d never been aware of dropped from her shoulders. She was suddenly in a place where everyone around her was black, where she didn’t have to fear what the next white person she encountered might say or do.  She spoke of how incredibly freeing that had been, of how her health improved.  After two weeks of liberation, she arrived at the airport to go home.  She described how that burden of living in a white world fell heavily on her shoulders the moment she was greeted by the white flight attendant.

The proper response to such a story is empathy and personal reflection. Thankfully, on the day I heard that story, I did not add to her burden by telling her “how articulate she was.”

Black people don’t need our compliments.  They aren’t waiting with bated breath to see if the white person is going to approve of them.  They know how often those compliments are really insults.  Indeed, the giving of compliments is often paternalistic, implying that black people’s value is directly connected with how much they please the white people around them.  White people need to carefully check this impulse to re-center attention on our alleged superiority and graciousness.

It is usually about here in any discussion of backhanded racist compliments that some white person will say, “Well, if I’m going to have my every word scrutinized, I just won’t say anything.”  Which brings me to my final rule.

Rule #4

Since racism is so deeply embedded in white behavior, it would benefit white people to talk less and listen more.

Not saying anything is often the right response.

Appreciation and gratitude are better than compliments.  When your black waitress provides great service, remarking on her politeness isn’t appropriate.  Leaving a good tip is sufficient.  When a black man does excellent work, complimenting his “competence” is only slightly less insulting than calling him “a good boy.”  A simple “great work” will do.  A raise would be even better.  When a person of color speaks in a way that makes you think or feel differently, there is no need to compliment them for “being articulate.”  Simply tell them that their words made you see the world differently.

What Saying “There Were Blacks Who Fought For The South” Says About A White Person

What Saying “There Were Blacks Who Fought For The South” Says About A White Person

Recently, while participating in a conference on cross-racial dialogue, I suggested white people need to stop talking about how Lincoln or the North freed the slaves. Since an estimated 500,000 blacks either fought in or supported the Union army, the assertion white people freed the slaves is racist rhetoric.  Nearly as many white people fought to maintain slavery as to dismantle it.  The infusion of black regiments and logistical support were pivotal to the Union victory when war fatigue had led many Northern whites to call for the end of the war and the permanent separation of the nation.  It may be more historically accurate to say black people saved the Union.

In response to my statement, a white woman in the audience, said, “We need to remember blacks fought on the side of the Confederacy as well.” I disputed her claim, pointing out that Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy had resisted such proposals as contradicting the purposes of the rebellion and its defense of slavery.  While I was correct about Davis, she was also correct in her assertion. Upon returning home and further research, I learned that a limited number of blacks did fight for the Confederacy, though there is considerable debate over whether they were compelled or volunteered.

Reflecting on my exchange with that woman, I wish I’d responded differently.  Instead of disputing the facts, I wish I’d asked, “Why do we need to remember that?  How does remembering that some blacks fought for the Confederacy advance racial reconciliation and equity today?” I had highlighted the participation of blacks in the Civil War in order to shift conversations that too often portray blacks as lazy and apathetic about injustice, in need of rescue by well-intentioned white people.  Her response, whether she realized it or not, suggested the opposite, that blacks actually found their oppression acceptable. Of course, if I’d asked my question, I doubt that would have been her response. I imagine she would have argued for a fair presentation of history and the acknowledgment of the exception to the rule.

White people love the exception to the rule.  Over the past few years, I’ve had countless white people inform me that there were…

  • Black slave traders
  • Black slave owners
  • Blacks who wouldn’t leave their owners and plantations after the Civil War
  • Blacks who wanted to leave the US and return to Africa
  • Blacks who supported segregation
  • Blacks who opposed affirmative action.
  • Blacks who disagreed on the need for reparations
  • Blacks who voted for Trump.

These exceptions to the rule are always offered as a counter to my descriptions of the brutality and de-humanization of black people through slavery, Jim Crow and systemic racism.  They infer I’m exaggerating the seriousness of the problem.  After all, if some blacks were and are content in such systems, they can’t be nearly as bad as I suggest. More disturbing, the exception to the rule implies that – since a few black people were or are active participants in oppression – any critique of white behavior is unjust.  Black people did it too!  Having established this false equivalency, white people can shut down any further discussion of slavery or racism.

Of course, any parent of a teenager knows that arguing an exception to the rule always has one intent – to deflect attention from the rule. The answer to my question – “How does remembering that some blacks fought in the Confederacy advance racial reconciliation and equity today? – is easy.  It doesn’t.

Such exceptions only distract us from honestly addressing larger truths, such as the fact that the industrial slavery of the United States was some of the most brutal and dehumanizing in human history.  Does anyone really want to argue that a few blacks fighting in the Confederacy meant black people actually supported and approved of their subjection?  In truth, many of the stories of the blacks employed to assist the Confederacy end with those same blacks fleeing across Union lines at the first opportunity.

Additionally, such arguments fail to acknowledge one of the most damaging aspects of racism – it is often internalized by its victims. Throughout history, there have been blacks who preferred a quiet accommodation with white supremacy than the real risks and dangers of confronting a force that had repeatedly killed those who opposed it.  While blacks should rightly be proud of their ancestors who fought for their freedom, pitting “those who fought” against “those who didn’t” serves one purpose – sustaining white supremacy.

This defense of whiteness is especially obvious in the common white retort that some blacks owned slaves.  While this is true, it is largely irrelevant.  Offering black slave owners as character witnesses for white culture is as ridiculous as believing the marital accolades of a woman with two black eyes. Those blacks who tolerated or participated in oppression were never white allies. They were tragic accomplices in their own victimization.

I’m tired of white people who – when it comes to slavery and racial discrimination – know every exception to the rule, but hardly anything about the rule.  For example, a vast majority of white people do not know one of the most basic pieces of information about slavery – how many black men and women were abducted or born into slavery in the United States?  That most white people know how many Jews were killed in the German Holocaust, but not the number of lives destroyed by the American Holocaust is damning, especially since conservative estimates place the carnage at about 12 million people.  Those who focus on the exceptions are attempting to distract attention from the rule.

Here is the rule.  White people were responsible for the creation of slavery in America. White people de-humanized, tortured, raped, and murdered millions of these enslaved people over the course of 400 years.  Upon their emancipation, white people were responsible for the creation of Jim Crow and systems of racial discrimination that continued to abuse, mistreat and murder black people.  White people are responsible for the continuation of system racism in America today.  The exceptions to this rule are irrelevant.

Ironically, while emphasizing the exceptions is often presented as an attempt at a more complete and balanced historical perspective, it is not. There were nearly 500,000 blacks who actively fought against the Confederacy and a few thousand, at most, who cooperated with it.  That this is the only time white people seem to value the minority viewpoint should end any doubt – our true motivation is to diminish responsibility for a horrific history and sustain white supremacy.

 

How To Identify White Supremacist Sympathizers and Secret Agents Over Thanksgiving Dinner

How To Identify White Supremacist Sympathizers and Secret Agents Over Thanksgiving Dinner

While I worry about swastika tattooed and Confederate flag waving white supremacists, at least I know exactly where they stand on the question of racial equality and reconciliation. We hold irreconcilable views on the past, present and future of our nation.  We need not debate one another. We share nothing in common other than the pigment of our skin and the nation we inhabit. Though such people often do damage through violent acts of racism, they are not whom I most fear.

It is the secret agents and sympathizers of white supremacy that keep me up at night. Those who most concern me do not proclaim their sentiments so boldly. They argue for civility, even while sowing division. They defend the Constitution, even while attacking its equal protections. They give lip service to justice, even while chipping away at the rights of people of color.

It is family members, friends, acquaintances and neighbors with white supremacist sympathies that frighten me. They never use the N word, never blatantly attack people of color and never applaud the crazies – at least not in public. Yet time and again these people hint at a darker allegiance – one that supersedes any commitment to racial equity and national unity.

These people are the fifth column of white nationalism, blending into a multicultural society even while working for its demise. They are the pillars of white supremacy. They are talking heads on television, members of think tanks, politicians, business people and church leaders. They are truck drivers and teachers, airline pilots and grocery baggers. They exist in nearly every white family, business and organization, insinuating there is something deeply wrong with our country and that the problem is rooted in people of color. Ironically, when their thinly veiled racist assertions are challenged, they often accuse their challengers of reverse racism, offering themselves as the true victims of injustice.

Indeed, this propensity to claim reverse racism is one of the surest signs of their true sympathies. In pretending that any criticism of the assertions, beliefs or behaviors of white people is racist, they ignore and obscure vast and obvious disparities in power, wealth and status, implying an acceptance of systemic racism. For them, the problem in the United States does not reside in these inequities, but in those who identify them. Criticism of white people is motivated by hate, jealousy and resentment and not any legitimate complaint.

When Mr. Trump was recently asked by a black reporter if his use of nationalist language was divisive, he claimed her question was racist.  What made her question racist had nothing to do with its appropriateness and everything to do with a black woman audaciously challenging his superiority. White supremacists recognized what he was doing and applauded.  People of color found it familiar and gritted their teeth. Only white progressives debated the fairness of her question.

Make no mistake.  Only white supremacist secret agents and sympathizers claim reverse racism.  This tactic of accusing your victims of your propensities is time honored.  Plantation owners accused blacks of being lazy while sipping mint juleps on their porches. White mobs accused blacks of being violent while gathering in courtyards to lynch them. White men maligned blacks as sexually deviant while raping black women and girls under their power. When white people claim racial victimization, they make a mockery of any commitment to justice.

They know the system is rigged in their favor. They like it that way. They are committed to defending their privilege, even while arguing it doesn’t exist.  When they dispute the constitutionality of birthright citizenship, they are not defenders of originalism or advocates of legal immigration. What they defend is white dominance.  When they argue for a reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, don’t be confused.  It was the Confederate rebellion that provoked the 14th and the KKK that most ardently opposed it.

Indeed, in highlighting and advocating for the white supremacist opposition to the 14th Amendment, Mr. Trump may have done progressives and people of color a favor.  This Thanksgiving, ask your friends and family what they think about birthright citizenship.  Those who defend it as central to the American experiment are your allies.  Those who disparage the 14th Amendment as misinterpreted or outdated have outed themselves as white supremacist secret agents and sympathizers.  You may not have the courage to challenge them, but at least you know their true colors.

If you do challenge them, ask if they realize such arguments have long been popular in Klan and white supremacy circles.  Ask if that makes them uncomfortable.  Ask how America would be better if we eliminated birthright citizenship.  Ask who should now be eligible.  Ask why now, when white people have the lowest birthrates in US history, that this is their priority. If they argue for some pure and original interpretation of the constitution, you will know them for who are.  White supremacist secret agents and sympathizers always look back fondly on the racist origins of our nation.

When you encounter nostalgia for an America of the past, understand what it represents.  Unless you are a white, there has never been a time in American history as good as it is now.  There are few blacks, gays, Latinos, women of color, Native Americans, Asians, or Muslims nostalgic for the America of old.  Such nostalgia is white privilege.  Those who speak of better days in the past – if given the opportunity – would recreate its ugliness.  They yearn for a time when minorities had no choice but to silently bear their oppression.  Only white supremacist secret agents and sympathizers want to return to any point in America’s past.

Mr. Trump and his minions understood this dynamic. They intentionally crafted their “Make America Great Again” campaign knowing full well with whom it would most resonate.  It was a call for all white supremacists – the neo-Nazi shock troops, the closeted racists and the white supremacist sympathizers to unite under one tent.  That so few Republicans fled from that tent is evidence of how deeply embedded white supremacy is in our political system. That so many white progressives still argue for non-partisanship suggests how insidious white supremacy remains.  Even those of us who oppose white supremacy are still susceptible to its allures.  After all, in a white supremacist society, white progressives still benefit.

Today is not the day for less debate, less challenge and less exposure of our racial divides.  Our country – like in the days prior to the Civil War – is divided for good reason. We face the same choice our ancestors did in 1860 and 1960. Will we be a nation committed to equality and justice for all or a nation where people of color are separate and unequal?  We cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by arguments that diminish the seriousness of this moment.

As in past battles with white supremacy, we must identify our allies and our enemies. We cannot pretend there are good people on both sides.  You are either a white person wrestling with your racism and privilege or you are not. Your goodness, in our present society, must be measured by this and this alone – are you committed to justice and equity for all. You cannot be a white supremacist secret agent or sympathizer and argue for your morality. Your heroes are not Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela. Your sympathies are with Hitler, George Wallace and David Duke. You are not a good person.

Maya Angelou famously wrote, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”  It is time for us to believe those who reveal by word and action that their sympathies are with white supremacy.   Whether they sit in the Oval Office or across from us as the Thanksgiving table, we can hope for their repentance, but – until that day – we must assume their intentions are for ill and not for good.  We must recognize them for who they are and oppose them in every way.

Finding Comfort In Discomfort

Finding Comfort In Discomfort

Friends,

I will be speaking at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on Saturday, November 17th. In the morning, I will speak on “How Ella Changed My Life” and participate in a panel discussion on cross racial dialogue. In the afternoon, I will lead a workshop on “The Reasonableness of Reparations.”  There will also be a workshop on Implicit Bias.  Registration is open, but limited.

If you live in Ohio, I hope you’ll register and join the conversation.  Those interested in reading the blogs that inspired this event and the workshop can do so at “How To Tell If A White Person Is Racist With One Simple Question.”

Those interested in attending the event can register at the following link…

https://diosohio.wufoo.com/forms/finding-comfort-in-discomfort/

 

 

A Terror Filled Election

A Terror Filled Election

We’ve seen worse.

While many rightly describe the present election cycle as divisive and hate filled, the elections of 1874 and 1876 were – without question – the most violent elections in American history.  This became painfully clear to me as I recently read a biography of President Ulysses S Grant.  Ron Chernow’s portrayal of Grant made me aware of many historic realities, including how little progress we’ve actually made around racial reconciliation.

Chernow makes a strong argument for Grant as the least racist white President in American history and a true friend to people of color.  During his administration (1868-1876), blacks had more rights and hopes than they would have for the next 90 years.  Sadly, both Grant and Lincoln – Republican presidents – would abhor the Republican party of today as an anathema to all they fought for in the Civil War. In the 1870s, Republicans were the defenders of civil and voting rights for people of color.  Tragically, in 1874 and 1876, the rights of black people, newly granted by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were besieged and systematically stripped from black citizens.

That we’ve seen worse should bring us no comfort.  In many ways, today’s political rhetoric and maneuvering is reminiscent of the racial divisions and hatreds that fueled the violence in the 1870s. Chernow spends a chapter of his book chronicling how whites organized into groups like the Ku Klux Klan, White People’s Party, White Leaguers, Red Shirts, Knights of the White Camellia and the White Line Rifle Clubs.  These groups had one primary function – terrorize blacks in order to keep them from voting.  Chernow notes these groups successfully eliminated the black vote during those elections and laid the groundwork for 90 years of Jim Crow.

After reading his accounts, I have concluded that if you have a white male ancestor who lived in the South during those years, you are probably descended from a murderer. Though I had read of the reign of terror of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1860s and early 1870s, I had not made the connection between these domestic terrorists and voting rights. This terrorism was not the acts of some fringe movement. The majority of Southern white men actively participated in the murder of black men and women during those years.

While the examples of this terror are numerous, I want to highlight the most grievous:

  • In April of 1873, in Colfax Parish, Louisiana, a majority black county, a white mob surrounded the courthouse, targeted black office holders and killed 73 black men in a single day. If you have a white ancestor from Colfax Parish, you’re likely descended from a murderer.
  • In August of 1874, six black leaders in Coushatta, Mississippi were drug from their beds by mobs of white men and murdered. If you have a white ancestor from Coushatta, you’re likely descended from a murderer.
  • In September of 1874, White Leaguers stormed the New Orleans City Hall and Louisiana Statehouse, killing more than 20 public officials and insisting a white supremacist be seated as lieutenant governor. Over several days, hundreds of blacks in New Orleans were killed and thousands fled.  The segregated schools and police force of New Orleans were disbanded.  Five thousand federal troops had to be sent to restore order. If you have a white ancestor from Louisiana, you’re likely descended from a murderer.
  • In December of 1874, the White League seized the Vicksburg, Mississippi courthouse, ran off the black Sheriff and office holders. In the course of several days, over 320 black men were killed and their bodies were allowed to rot in the streets. If you have a white ancestor from Mississippi, you’re likely descended from a murderer.

A subsequent Federal investigation would document over 2000 murders of black men and women in Mississippi and Louisiana in 1874 alone.  These efforts to terrorize blacks were so successful that in the 1875 election in Yazoo County, Mississippi, a county with a majority population of 12,000 blacks, only eight votes were cast for Republicans.  In 1876, there were only two votes.  In early 1876, John Lynch, one of the last black Mississippi congressmen, wrote, “The Democrats (the white supremacy party of the 1870s) proposed to carry every Southern State as they carried Mississippi last year – not by power of the ballot – but by an organized system of terrorism and violence.”

He was prophetic.  What succeeded in Mississippi and Louisiana spread throughout the South.  South Carolina, which had been one of the most integrated governments in the South, completely changed in racial composition in one election cycle.  On July 4, 1876, whites gathered outside Hamburg, SC – a strong black community – and demanded the black militia in that community disarm.  When they refused, they attacked the town, killing dozens and pillaging every black home.  This initiated a reign of terror than virtually ended all black voting in South Carolina for 90 years.

Why are these stories important?

Elections matter.

White racists, then and now, fear them.  They consistently do all in their power to obstruct and suppress the votes of people of color.  Democracy is not their friend.  These stories also remind us that civil and voting rights – though we may take them for granted – can easily and quickly be removed when whites decide to use their privilege and power.  Progress is not inevitable.  Our nation has and can regress.  When white people look back nostalgically to the past, when they wax poetic about the Confederacy and the Southern way of life and when they suggest they want to make America great again, don’t be confused. These are the descendants of murderers.

For these reasons, I am less and less concerned about whether the Russians colluded with the Trump administration to assist in his election. The greatest threats to democratic elections are not foreign agents, but white strategies to disenfranchise people of color. Indeed, I’ve begun to wonder if the whole Mueller investigation is a distraction intended to focus our attention and energy on the trivial while the terrible takes place.

The American election system – rather than Russia – is to blame for our present plight.  Trump energized white fear and exploited racial divides. He was assisted by an electoral system designed and controlled by white people. That is what should most concern us in 2018.

What should outrage us is Republican states purging their voting roles, invalidating thousands of registrations on technicalities and demanding Native Americans have a street address in order to vote.  What should dismay us is how racial gerrymandering has allowed many states to be overly represented by white men.  What should worry us is that predominantly white rural states will send 70 senators to Congress while predominantly minority urban states will send only 30, even though these minority states vastly outnumber the rural states in population.  White men in Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Idaho, Wyoming and Oklahoma, as the system intended, will continue to be overly represented and empowered.

Though I do not think our present elections will descend into the violence of the 1870s, I worry that the elections of 2018 and 2020 could be as damaging to our democracy.  Whether we realize it or not, we may be voting on what kind of country we will live in for the next 100 years – one where people of color are empowered or one where the progress of the past 50 years is destroyed and people of color are disenfranchised.

It happened in 1876.  It can happen again.

Now, while you can, get out and vote.

The Burden Of Being A Black Women

The Burden Of Being A Black Women

During the week of the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing, I heard a black male comedian joke, “This was one of those few weeks when it was better to be black than a woman.”  The crowd laughed, but I didn’t.  His comment was more emblematic of a problem than it was a mockery of one.  I wondered if he and his crowd were aware of the misogyny and racism hidden in his remark.

The categories of his joke – unstated, but clearly implied – were black men and white women.  According to his quip, it was better during that week to be a black man like himself than a white woman like Dr. Ford. Though I am not sure the diminishment of one marginalized group ever makes things better for another, that his joke excluded people who inhabit both of his categories suggests a blind spot on the part of our society. We too often ignore black women.

Don’t think black women aren’t aware of this common slight.  I follow enough women of color to know last week was especially difficult for them.  The seriousness in which the Democrats responded to Dr. Ford was in striking contrast to how Democrats treated a black woman, Anita Hill.  While black women were mostly sympathetic to Dr. Ford, they were also aware of the privilege she brought to her testimony.  They had to wonder how much of her credibility was connected to the color of her skin.  One woman of color noted that many of the white women who were most enraged often tone police black women when they voice their anger about racism.

Though we are beginning to talk about intersectionality and the need to recognize various types and kinds of discrimination and oppression, we seldom acknowledge that two of the deepest blights on our society – racism and misogyny – intersect in women of color.  Heaven forbid a black woman should be a lesbian – the trifecta of intersectionality.  This is why I am especially impressed with black women like Dana Black.

My wife and I recently hosted a small gathering in support of the efforts of Dana Black to make her name and way within the Democratic Party.  Dana, a black lesbian, most recently ran against a long time and powerful Indiana Republican State Representative in a district where the Democratic Party had allowed his election to go uncontested. Eternally optimistic, Dana ran even though the Party offered little support and people mocked her naivete.  Dana says, “Did I lose?  Yes.  Did I fail?  No. I gave 38% of the people in that District another option, a vision of what could be.  That so many in that district voted for a black female lesbian is nearly miraculous.”

I am amazed by that kind of thinking, of those who understand racism and misogyny will not be quickly routed, that defeating them is trench warfare where the deeply dug lines are moved slowly and with many losses. This is why my wife and I became monthly donors to The 10/100 Committee, an organization with the goal of seeing 10 US Senators of color and 100 US Representatives of color in the Congress in 2050.  Notice the target date.  I am supporting an organization with a goal that I will never see, but perhaps my black daughters will.  Indeed, my hope is that when we meet that goal that at least 5 of those Senators and 50 of those Representatives will be women of color.

This generational shift is what I hope for in my writing, my giving and my advocacy.  I understand many of my white peers will die with their hearts permanently hardened by the racism and misogyny in which we were immersed. A few of us will change, but most will not.  The death of systemic racism and misogyny will be a lingering death.  Old white men will cling to the reins of power with their dying breath.  If the arc of the universe bends toward justice, those climbing that arc know how steep the incline.  Like Sisyphus, they push the great rock of white male privilege up that hill, knowing full well that they are always at risk of being crushed by it.

Certainly, white women and black men share this danger, but it is the blood, sweat and tears of black women like Vivian Malone Jones that most oil those efforts, making it possible for us to inch the rock upward.  The lead picture of this blog is of a 21 year old Vivian Malone Jones being escorted into registration at the University of Alabama in 1961.  Her family was threatened with violence and the governor of Alabama – George Wallace – stood in her way on her first attempt to register.  What is often forgotten is that once the federal marshals left, Vivian had to endure blatant and systemic racism every day of her education.  Every day she persevered, she inched the rock forward.

She did what black women before and after her have done – women like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors.  If you don’t know of them, you should.  They are the ones who have shouldered so much of the burden of changing our society for the better.  Black women like these women continue that legacy.  I have the honor of knowing and sometimes working with incredible women of color.

Today I celebrate black women like Dana Black.  I marvel at Teena and her incredible strength.  I appreciate Nichelle and her work to highlight black literature and culture.  I’m thankful for LaShawnda, who has worked so tirelessly to remind us of the horror of lynching.  I respect Patrice and her perseverance in community development.  I remember Val and all her many community organizing workshops.  I honor Alyson who spends her “free time” advocating for the ethical treatment of orphans.  I treasure the friendship of Cherie and her work on cross racial dialogue.  I am in awe of Mashariki and understand why many call her “Queen Mother.” Each of these women has accomplished great things despite the many ways our society diminishes their value and ignores their efforts.

For me, they are the canary in the mine.  They are uniquely positioned to experience and know whether we are making any progress in our struggle to end misogyny and racism in America.  When they tell us the work is done – then and only then – can we rest.